It’s true that social media remains in many ways a sort of wild west. Many of the participants are shady, self-proclaimed experts are sometimes snake oil salesmen, and paths are still being created. Yet there are also an increasing number of social media success stories and the picture of what social media success looks like is becoming clearer. And there’s no turning back; social media has changed buyer expectations and behavior. Despite the dangers and potential pitfalls of social media, businesses will continue to expand and refine their social networking efforts.
Here are six reasons why social media skeptics have a point, and six reasons businesses must and will continue to embrace social media marketing anyway.
6 Reasons Social Media Sucks
1. It’s full of self-promoters. No question. Certain aspects of social media (such as the ease of building a large following on Twitter—if you’re not picky about things like quality or relevance) are like helium for those with already overinflated egos. Facebook can be a wonderful platform for sharing information, but also a playground for narcissists. These people aren’t shy about telling you how wonderful they are (it’s amazing how many Twitter handles and profiles, for example, include terms like “guru,” “expert” or even “god”), or treating social media as a direct sales channel rather than a mechanism for sharing valuable insights and information. The great thing about social media, however, is: you don’t have to follow, friend, “like” or in any way encourage such folks if you don’t want to.
2. It’s more of a place to interact with peers than to engage prospects. Again, no argument, most of the activity across social networks is of the birds-of-a-feather variety. Marketers follow other marketers, PR pros hang with other PR pros, engineers interact with other engineers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (see below) and it’s the biggest part of what makes social media activity enjoyable. Problem is, few CEOs or general managers are excited about the notion of paying employees to essentially spend their time engaged in online water cooler chats with cohorts at other firms. Ultimately, both sides need to come to an understanding, with management conceding that not all of that peer interaction is a waste of time and employees focusing primarily on achieving business goals through social media activity during work hours.
3. It’s an easy way to waste a lot of time. It can be. The more active a person is in social media, the more time it naturally takes up (e.g. because there are more blog comments to respond to, more Twitter followers to check out, etc.). Then again, almost any activity, improperly management, can be a time sink. The key is to prioritize between networks and spend the time on each wisely.
4. It means giving up one’s privacy. Not an unreasonable concern. Facebook in particular is notorious for privacy issues. Google settled a lawsuit last fall relating to its Google Buzz service. I’ve always found Foursquare a bit creepy; turns out there’s actually an app named Creepy that aggregates “GPS coordinates for any user (of geolocation services like Foursquare, Twitter and Flickr), pointing out their most frequented hangouts on a map…Essentially, it’s a stalker’s dream app.” The solution? Be careful and thoughtful about what you post online. Always assume the entire world can see anything you do on line. If you wouldn’t do it in front of your mom, your pastor and your boss, don’t do it online. That award you just won for your last brilliant email marketing campaign? An excellent thing to add to your online profiles or post a status update about. Last night’s extracurricular activities? Probably better shared over a beer with your buddies than with the world on Facebook or Twitter.
5. It’s just another avenue for spam. Sadly, yes. Twitter was riddled with tweet spam early in its ramp up phase, though the service has added tools and made other significant strides since then to combat spam and p*rn on its network. Google “Facebook spam” and you’ll get 246 million results. LinkedIn has had problems with LinkedIn group spammers, though the business social network has responded by creating new group management tools to fight spam. Yes, like email, social media sites and social networks can be sources of spam. Having learned from email, however, most networks (as a matter of survival) have taken spam-fighting into consideration from the start and make their tools more sophisticated as spammers have developed new techniques.
6. It’s hard to measure the ROI. Maybe or maybe not, the social media ROI debate continues. But in general, measuring the ROI of social media with any precision is problematic because social media far more often influences a sale than leads directly to one. Still, as Jennifer Kane noted at the recent OMS Minneapolis event, correlations between social media activities and sales can be measured—and correlations are good data.